Seed Coat Stuck – Tips For Removing The Seed Coat After Germination

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By: Heather Rhoades

It happens to the best of gardeners. Instead of the cotyledon leaves on the top of the stem, there is what appears to be the seed itself. A closer inspection reveals that the seed coat is attached to the leaves—still.

Many gardeners refer to this condition as “helmet head.” Is the seedling doomed? Can you remove the seed coat that won’t come off before the seedling dies? Keep reading to learn more about what to do with a seed coat stuck to a plant.

Why Did the Seed Coat Not Fall Off?

No one is 100 percent sure why this happens, though most agree that a seed coat getting stuck on the seedling mainly occurs due to less than ideal planting and germinating conditions.

Some people believe that when a seed coat is sticking to the seedling it is an indication that the seeds were not planted deep enough. The idea is that the friction of the soil as the seed grows up helps to pull off the seed coat. Therefore, if the seed is not planted deep enough, the seed coat won’t come off well as it grows.

Others feel that when a seed won’t come off, this indicates that there was too little moisture in the soil or too little humidity in the surrounding air. The idea here is that the seed coat cannot soften as well as it should and is more difficult for the seedling to break free.

How to Remove a Seed Coat Attached to the Leaves

When the seed coat is sticking to the seedling, before you do anything, you should determine whether anything should be done. Remember, seedlings are very delicate and even small amounts of damage can kill them. If the seed coat is stuck only on one of the leaves or just on the very tips of the cotyledon leaves, the seed coat may come off on its own without your help. But, if the cotyledon leaves are firmly stuck in the seed coat, then you may need to intervene.

Misting the stuck seed coat with water may help to soften it enough for it to be gently removed. But, the most often recommended way to remove an attached seed coat is to spit on it. Yes, spit. This comes from the thought that enzymes found in saliva will gently work to remove anything that is keeping the seed coat on the seedling.

Initially, just try wetting the seed coat and allow 24 hours for it to fall off on its own. If it does not come off on its own, repeat moistening it and then using either tweezers or the tips of your fingers, gently pull at the seed coat. Again, remember that if you remove the cotyledon leaves during this process, the seedling will die.

Hopefully, if you follow the proper way to plant your seeds, the problem of having a seed coat attached to the seedling will never happen. But, if it does, it’s nice to know that you can still save a seedling when the seed coat won’t come off.

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Comments (8)


Reduce the humidity, excess water and misting and in a few days you will be able to remove the seed coats. Whether they stay on is no big deal since these embryonic seeds will be replaced by true leaves and will die.


I'll give you the advice someone gave me when I first came to GW and had the same problem. If both cotyledons are still held within the seed coat, at least one of them needs to be freed so the seedling can grow and the true leaves can emerge. A drop or two of human saliva usually softens the seed coat in a few minutes so you can very gently remove it. Worked fine for me!

Here's some information from the tomato FAQs:

Sometimes the cotyledons (the first leaves formed from the seed) have trouble getting loose from the seed coating. Be patient, as the leaves will usually escape. You could wet the seed coating, or you could try to carefully pinch off the seed coat, but if you pinch off the cotyledons, the seedling will likely die. A simple way to wet the seedlings is with a spray bottle of water set to mist. A small drop of saliva is also very effective at loosening seedcoats.

Anyone start Thunbergia seeds before?

I got some of the 'Blushing Susie' Thunbergia alata seeds and was wondering what is the typical amount of time for germination? I'm looking for real-world experience of starting these seeds. The books say 10-21 days, but wondering if typical experience is more specific. I'm really anxious about making sure these seeds germinate and succeed as as only have a few. Thanks!

Hi lang
I haven't started the blushing susie ones but the regular ones came up for me in about 12 days by just using seed starter, plastic bag over them, and putting them under flourescent lights.
I can imagine that you are really wanting them to grow I hope they do and that you get lots of seeds to share!
(okay if not lots enough for me at least) haha
Hope this helps

Langbr, I have grown them and had pretty good luck. I soaked them over night and then put them in a 4 inch pot, covered with about a 1/2 inch of soil and kept them warm. I agree that it will take 10 to 12 days for germination, but look out. after you transplant them into their own little pot they will take off. I've spent a lot of time in the greenhouse unwinding the twining vines from each other. I don't find that they germinate or grow any differently from any other of the thunbergias except that the seed hasn't been as viable as the other kinds. By the way, after they get started and have gained up to about 10 inches in height, you can take cuttings. More plants real quick. LOL. Have fun.

Brugie-thanks for the info. I guess I'll sit tight and be patient. I didn't soak mine so I hope that doesn't cause them to flop. I only got one packet of seeds and have sown 1/2 the packet (only 10 seeds to the packet). If I fail maybe I can find someone with some cuttings to share. I think poppysue was also getting some of these seeds in a post somewhere.

I started some Blushing Susie in foam cubes. It took about a week to see germination. I have about 10 out of 15 up now.

Right, just sit back and wait. I'm sure you will be okay, even without soaking. I just have a habit of soaking anything that has a hard seed coat. Wishing for you, beautiful vines this summer.

Thanks Brugie I can use the good wishes.

Poppysue -- when you say foam cubes do you mean the APS starters that Gardener Supply sells or something else? Just curious as that is what I settled on for my new seed starting hobby (the APS paks) and I LOVE them.

This message was edited Mar 6, 2004 11:36 PM

here are some that approx 3 weeks from sowing. this was taken earlier this week. i will take another, cuz they have grown since then. but the days are getting longer and they say that makes a big difference. cindy

ps. the ones in front are 4 o'clocks. the thundergia are in the rear. )

Brugie, if your planting them in hanging baskets just cut a slit in a paper plate and put it under the hanger for the hanging basket, keeps it from growing up. They will grow up to the paper plate then come back down. That's how I keep them in the greenhouse, they won't wind around anything but the hangers on the pot.

Thanks. I grow them in the 2x4 inch press pots to give away and it doesn't take long to have a mess.

Hey cbrandenburg (nice tip) you wouldn't have any ideas on how to keep snapdragons from getting all tangled up would you, wish I could get my pictures on here (I am not computer friendly) they are really getting to be a mess, I thought about putting them in bigger pots they're in 6 packs now & 6" high but they aren't root bound or anything like that, so I hate to move them, they are coming out at the bottom of the plant with baby leaves and I pinched them and they are still getting taller and still falling:-?

Hey brommom! Nice invisible plants! lol :)

Sorry Lebug, not sure what to do about snapdragons. I usually winter sow mine and don't have that problem with them because I plant them up at the 3rd leaf stage right into the garden. They do well with winter sowing. Something to keep in mind for next year.

I used oasis cubes. I had them on hand and finally put some to use. They're similar to rock wool cubes but made out of floral oasis.

Thanks cbrandenburg, this is my first time growing these, got laid off and I'm obsessed with plants so this is how I'm filling my time, I always grow enough for the neighborhood in the summer, but it's quite different in the basement, if I didn't do this, it would drive me crazy not doing anything, and don't you just love seeing those little seedlings pop up :-)

I'm sure I'll be in the plant trade sometime this summer, can't wait :-)

poppysue, I understand you start seed in the rock wool cubes,
are you saying you start the snapdragons in the floral oasis, or you put pieces in between them, I'm very interested in this propagation thing, never really tried it, thought I might learn something on this thread, thanks :-)

No no. I started the thunbergia seeds in oasis cubes. I have started some other seeds on rock wool too. I was just saying the rock wool & oasis cubes are similar.

Here's a link to the oasis. They offer a couple of different sizes. Originally I bought them for cuttings but the ones I got were too small. They make great little seedling cubes.

this is one of my black eyed susan vines..i started them on 2/7 and took this picture today.

Looks great. I'm starting some tomorrow.

I started mine on March 4, and yesterday I could see a little green in the holes of the bio-sponges. This afternoon they are coming up a little more.It's been 9 days since they were planted. I have them in bio-sponges and on a propagation mat. This is so exciting! I've been wanting to have some Black-Eyed-Susan vines since the first time I saw one.
This growing from seed thing,it is very habit forming.

Have mine soaking along with some Cardoon and a couple of other vines. Can't imagine what I'm going to do with everything I'm growing. I'm going to be trying the sponges too.

I finally got germination on mine! A few were up on Wed. but several more today!

Temperatures for Common Plants

The best range for most vegetable plants is between 75-85°F and flowers should be around 70°F. Fruit varies wildly, and many fruit seeds require a period of cold stratification. It’s important to remember that is SOIL temperature, not air temperature. There are several ways to moderate your soil temperature which we will talk about later.

Optimum Seed Germination Temperature for Veggies

Plant VarietyTemperature Humidity Days to
Arugula 65-75°F 50-60% 5
Beans 65-85°F 50-60% 7
Beets 60-85°F 45-65% 4
Broccoli/Cabbage 75-85°F 50-60% 4
Carrots 70-85°F 45-65% 6
Corn 75-95°F 60-70% 3
Cucumber 75-95°F 60-70% 3
Eggplant 80-90°F 60-80% 6
Kale 65-75°F 50-60% 4
Lettuce 60-70°F 50-60% 3
Onion 65-85°F 50-60% 6
Peas 60-80°F 50-60% 6
Pumpkin 70-90°F 60-80% 4
Radish 65-85°F 50-60% 4
Spinach 55-75°F 50-60% 5
Squash 80-95°F 60-80% 4
Swiss Chard 75-85°F 50-60% 4
Tomato/peppers 70-90°F 60-80% 6
Watercress 55°Fkeep wet 7-10

Optimum Seed Germination Temperature for Fruits

Plant VarietyTemperatureDays to Germination
Apple 60-75°F 5
Cherry 65-85°F 90+
Honeydew 70°F 7
Lemon 65-75°F 7-14
Pear 32-40°F 90+
Pomegranate 75-80°F 30-40
Strawberry 40-60°F 14-21
Watermelon 75-90°F 4

Optimum Seed Germination Temperature for Flowers

Plant Variety Temperature
Days to
Bachelor’s Button65-70°F7-10
Globe Amaranth70°F14

If you purchase domesticated seed stock, germination should be easier. Sow seeds in sterile growing medium and keep them evenly moist but never wet. At room temperature, about 72 degrees F, you should see lupine seedlings poking through the soil in five to six days. Although lupines have a reputation for low, erratic germination, more than 90 percent of carefully handled domesticated seeds should eventually sprout.

In general, lupines usually will not germinate in temperatures below 32 degrees F or above 86 degrees F, with cooler temperatures leading to slower germination times. Soil moisture, planting depth and soil type will also influence germination rates, and lupine species do vary in temperatures required for germination. Seeds that fail to sprout after cold stratification may perform better after heat treatment, or vice versa.

Watch the video: SEEDS Biology

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